By Aki Mori
One of the best features of being a multicultural family in the United States is the daily conversations we have about, well, culture. Malcolm Gladwell famously contends in his “10,000 hour rule” that what we recognize as genius in any given field is frequently not about innate talent. Instead, brilliance and mastery comes from unusual exposure and practice–10,000 hours of it. Engineers often endow their children with expertise in science and math. Former athletes might produce physically talented kids. In mine and my wife’s case, all we have to offer our children is knowledge of culture, and so we do so intentionally and with gusto.
Most people understand the power of culture in a general sort of way. After all, culture includes language, religion, philosophy, history, music, health, and values. At the same time, as a modern American parent I do wonder in what ways cultural intelligence can be parlayed by my daughters into careers that will be fulfilling and sustaining. Is it too much to hope that my daughters are future Madame Secretaries of State?
I can’t wait for my wife and daughters to return from Taiwan. I was just with them there for one week, but had to return ahead of them because of work. My wife grew up in Taiwan, and immigrated to the United States during her high school years. Being Japanese, I only know Taiwan through her. And as for my daughters, after so many years of talking about Asia around our dinner table, this was finally their first ever trip there! Needless to say, we’ll have lots to talk about.
For example: How is it that even with Kaiser coverage, I have to pay over $100 out of pocket for eyeglasses, but I can walk into any eyeglass store on any street in Taipei, take a quick eye exam, and cover the entire cost of a similar pair for less than $50? Economics is certainly an overlooked element of culture.
Did you know that 7-Eleven convenience stores are everywhere in Taiwan? I’ll ask my kids for their thoughts on that because (true story) as I was driving home from the airport, I saw that our local 7-Eleven, one of only a few in town, got boarded up and went out of business in our absence. Why do Taiwanese love 7-Elevens like they do? They don’t even sell Slurpees there, which is the only redeeming value of the chain–at least in its American form.
To be sure we’ll share our observations and thoughts related to consumerism, living spaces, climate, language fluency and the invigorating sensation of living and breathing among people that look like us. Too, there are other conversations with my girls that I’ll hold in abeyance until they’ve accumulated more such authentic experiences in Asia. Some day I’ll ask them what they feel about the pursuit of happiness, an American concept that their beloved grandparents reject categorically. They’re too young to have noticed the modesty of Asian women, which I pray they will adopt, instead of the sexualized approach that is expected in the West. I don’t worry a bit about them being influenced by Asian rigidity and conformity — after all, American individualism is something I cherish absolutely.
Taken to its furthest reaches, being a multicultural family means we don’t necessarily have to spend our entire lives living in the United States. In fact, my wife, children, and I have been tossing about some ideas, which if they come to fruition will certainly be worth sharing next year in Voices of August 2015. Stay tuned?
Aki Mori will be entering his third year as an assistant principal at Gresham High School this fall.
Editor’s note: I met Aki in 2009 after I published an op-ed piece he submitted to The Oregonian. The common denominator? One of his first jobs as an educator was in the New Haven School District in Union City, California — the working-class, Mexican American town where I attended school through the fourth grade. Aki is a gentleman in every sense of the word.
Tomorrow: “The cadence and sting of the jellyfish” by Andrea Cano